Birds and Bees: Ten Thoughts On Talking to Kids About Sex

(Two years ago, I posted a couple of blogs about talking to kids about sex. This is a revisit of those blogs, with the hope that the reminder is helpful and the subject is still relevant.)

Most of us are wimps when it comes to talking about sex in healthy ways with our kids. We are afraid we won’t know what to say or how to say it. We’re just sure we’ll mess it up as much as our parents did. We let ourselves believe the lie that since we were (let’s just say) less than angels at their age, we have no right to talk.

Of course, all those are empty excuses to avoid spiritually shaping our kids in a significant area of their development. A better option is to take the approach God took with us — talk honestly, openly and often about who we are, how we’re made and what we’re designed for.

If you’re ready to help your kids gain a biblical view of sex, start here:

1. Good sex is holy. We know this because God is holy, and God invented sex. Genesis teaches us that God cut male and female out of the same cloth, so we were created out of a kind of oneness. This is God’s design and when you know how something works, that’s empowering.

2. Good sex depends on a strong covenant. Sex is designed to be practiced inside the covenant of marriage. The basic word in this whole holy design is covenant, which is basically a solemn agreement to either hang onto or step away from something. In the case of men, women and marriage, that covenant is a solemn agreement to hang onto each other for life, and sex is the sign of that covenant. The difference between covenant and no covenant is the difference between holy and human. Sex without covenant is like putting a BMW symbol on a Ford Pinto. You may have the symbol but you don’t have the car (and the car you’ve got is likely to blow up).

3. Good sex is not shame-producing. Sex was not designed to produce shame; it was designed to generate goodness. Over and over in the story of creation, we hear that God made things that are good. Men and women are called “very good.” Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Sex inside of a healthy covenant relationship is designed to generate joy, not shame. Teach your kids that abuse is never acceptable, and that good sex is not shame-producing.

4. Good sex is not love-producing (but is a great response to good love). Sex does not make love; it is a response to love. And love is not an act or emotion. It is a commitment. We “make love” happen not by engaging in physical acts, but by practicing mutual submission (see Ephesians 5:21) — by practicing habits with each other like patience, kindness and humility.

5. In conversations about how our bodies work, make it clear that you are safest person to talk to. Make sure your kids know you love them and are coming at this from a place of affection, not condemnation. When you talk to your kids, make it a conversation, not a lecture.

6. Ask good questions. It is empowering. Let your kids educate you about their culture. Get in the habit of asking questions about things in their lives that aren’t familiar to you.

7. Good sex is biblical. Don’t just give your opinion; back it up. Connect with a biblical perspective. If you don’t know what you believe about something, say so. Then go find an answer you are comfortable with. Let your kids hear you say that God designed sex and made it special — so special in fact that he made rules about it. God’s plan is not designed not to suck the fun out of life — far from it — but so we will have the greatest opportunity for experiencing a joyful, rich and deep life that’s full of good love.

8. “Anything we need to talk about?” Don’t be afraid to ask this question often. Think in terms of “talks,” not “the talk.” At different ages, our kids need different information. Don’t give the Ph.D. version while your child is still in kindergarten. And don’t talk about it so seldom that it never becomes natural. Make your child’s healthy appreciation for his body part of your good parenting.

9. Good sex is ultimately about life. This is the Genesis purpose of sex. God made us to be creators, and he made sex enjoyable so we’d be drawn to it. That’s why natural curiosity is a good thing. Our job is help our kids make sense of those curiosities and channel them toward God’s good, joyful, healthy design.

10. Holy sex is good. It is not something to be afraid of (goodness, no!), nor is it something we are powerless to control. Talk to your kids about the power they have over their own lives, about the nature of true love, about the rewards of self-discipline. Talk to them about how to begin life with a holy end in mind, and about making goals that set them up to live well. And above all, model it. Because your life is the greatest lesson your kid will ever receive.

May we so live the qualities of our design — holiness, sacredness, goodness, love and life — that our kids will look at our example and say, “I want what they have.”

 

For more great ideas, look up  A Chicken’s Guide To Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex.

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Healthy Communication and the Kingdom of Heaven

Healthy communication is the key to growing a healthy, mature community.  Good communication is also the best weapon against the enemy of our souls.

As a leader, then, it becomes a high priority for me to develop a habit of communicating in ways that foster grace, sensitivity and understanding.  If I learn to do this, those around me will not only respond with good will but will hopefully adopt those habits and pass them along in their circles.

If I want to make the practice of healthy communication a priority this year in my church, home or organization, here’s where I’d start:

Say more.  By some strange quirk of fate I,  as a southerner, do not drink sweet tea. I only make it when family comes to my house, and then I make it poorly because my idea of “sweet” and their idea of “sweet” are worlds apart. “Good tea” by southern standards means adding more sugar than any human could conceivably consume.

What works for sweet tea works for communication. What we think of as “over-communicating” is likely the amount needed for someone to get it.  Never mind what you think they need; start with what they actually need.

Affirm more. This is the pattern Paul teaches in his letters: start every conversation with affirmation. Doing this well will right-size your expectations, so you’re not constantly noticing the gap between what people are doing and what you think they ought to be doing.  We can all learn to do as my mother taught and find something nice to say. In fact, we must learn to do that before we can say anything at all that will be heard.

Blast less. Blast people enough and they will stop trusting what you say. Send enough email bombs and you’ll produce someone who cringes when they see your name pop up on the screen. Yell enough and you’ll produce kids with a defensive crouch.

If you’re prone to sending angry emails or venting on social media, find a way to stop yourself. Get a system that checks your intentions. Here’s the decision I’ve made where corporate communication is concerned:  I will not send any emotion by email/ text/ Facebook message/ twitter that isn’t positive and affirming and I will not communicate negativity in public (which includes Facebook and twitter). It just doesn’t seem like a mature or healthy way to get a message across. If I have serious words to share, I will always do that in person. And always covered in prayer.

Ask more questions.  This ends up being a Kingdom-building habit. Far too late in life, I’ve learned that most of my frustration and miscommunication is a product of not asking enough questions before jumping to conclusions. Remember: The Kingdom of Heaven is big, hopeful and focused not on me and my feelings, but on God and His Kingdom. When I invest the time it takes to ask clarifying questions, seeking not so much “to be understood as to understand” (a prayer of St. Francis), I am reaching for God’s vision, God’s perspective, God’s Kingdom.

Finally, assume the best. In the absence of information, most folks assume the worst. That’s human nature. The nature of Christ, however, is to assume the best in others. In the absence of information, assume that those in your circles are doing the best they can, that they are not out to offend you, that they are working out their salvation daily just as you are. Give the people around you the benefit of the doubt and you’ll discover that the grace you give flows both ways.

By saying more, affirming more, blasting less and asking more questions before making assumptions, we develop a Kingdom perspective. I am convinced that healthy churches and organizations are built on a foundation of healthy communication. In a season when so much communication is destructive and negative, I challenge you to make it a priority to build an intentionally healthy system of communication that models grace, sensitivity and understanding.

 

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When the Church Hurts (part three)

This post is part three in a three-part series of thoughts about dealing with conflict in the church.  In our first post, we looked at biblical stories that model healthy and redemptive responses to conflict. The second post began addressing practical ways to maturely deal with unresolved anger and conflict from a biblical place. In this post, we continue exploring ways to respond redemptively to conflict. Find the first three points in the second post

People come and go from churches, jobs and even their own homes for as many reasons as there are people. Some reasons are valid — a geographical move, or a family circumstance — but not all reasons are created equal. Some people simply misunderstand the nature of community or the work of the Body of Christ. Some of us are self-seeking and some of us are broken. We are easily wounded, easily distracted. Many of our decisions come not from what we know about ourselves, but from what we don’t know about ourselves.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a high bar to reach in its mission. It is here among us to offer the truth of Jesus Christ, freedom from sin and the fear of death, healing of wounds, and an authentic, loving, supportive community in which our new lives can be redeemed, healed, and shaped for significance.

Only in community can we become whole and healthy, everything we were designed to be. Christianity isn’t self-serving, nor can it happen in a vacuum. Community is essential, but communities are made of people — broken, wounded, in-process people — and because of that, conflict is inevitable. Hurt people hurt people. When that happens, the best recourse is repentance and reconciliation. The only way to learn how to live in healthy community is to live through the hard times.

But what about when leaving seems the healthiest option? In our last post, I offered three places to begin. Here are three more:

4. Offer peace.  “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Bitterness chokes the Holy Spirit’s ability to move, both in individuals and in the church. No matter what the cost to our pride, schedule or plans, we are called to make peace with anyone who has hurt us or whom we have hurt. If we explore every creative opportunity that might lead to healing, God will surely bless us.

Sometimes going back is the best way to move forward. If we are still angry with someone at another church, then perhaps God is calling us go back, offer forgiveness and get closure. Even if we don’t go back to stay, it is both wise and biblical to go back and make peace. In making amends, we discover that we don’t have to keep talking about the past because we’ve made peace with it. Take the challenge to make this step for the sake of the Body of Christ. Visit during the week or call. In some positive way, let the pastor and others know you are at peace so they can move on. Paul said this was the ministry of Jesus: “He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to you who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

5. Write a note of blessing. After Paul split from Barnabas, he took time in another letter to defend the work of his brother in ministry. What a positive and grace-filled act! A written word of blessing can be such healing medicine. It can remind someone we’ve loved of the good times and of the ways they contributed to our faith. When we offer grace-filled and hopeful words in an email, text or note, we create open doors for future opportunities. After all, they may need us again one day … or we may need them!

Once we’ve learned to speak positively about the congregations we leave behind, we’ve prayed through our disappointments, we’ve offered forgiveness where it was needed and extended the hand of peace, now – and only now! – we are ready to commit fully to the ministry of a new congregation.

6. Make a solid commitment to your new church. Partial or uncommitted attendance in church is not healthy or helpful.

Let me say that again: Partial or uncommitted attendance in church is not healthy or helpful. It misses the point of authentic community, which is what the Body of Christ is designed to be. Simply put, you can’t be part of a community you’re not part of.

Likewise, bouncing between churches can send negative signals and create unneeded tension. Doing so implies that my feelings are the ones that matter most and that simply isn’t part of a healthy Christian worldview. We find healing in stepping outside ourselves and becoming fully a part of the work going on around us.

So dig in. Invest in the time it takes to understand the vision of a new community of faith. Every church is unique and has a unique place in the community. We recognize that what worked in another church may not be right for this new mission. God delights in doing new things, so we want to be open to new ideas and to discovering new spiritual gifts. We must bloom where we are planted. Then when we are given a place to serve, we can support that work wholeheartedly — with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.

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Ghosting and the Prince of Peace

Ghosting is a thing. ghosting2

Though the term wasn’t around in my dating days, the concept certainly was. Ghosting is the word for what happens when the person you’ve been seeing simply disappears. One day, you’re enjoying dinner together, hopeful this relationship is going someplace; the next day it is as if the person has fallen off the face of the earth. They have entered some other zone you can’t crack. You text to say you enjoyed time with them and you get crickets in return. You call and get voice mail. You check in on Facebook and discover you’ve been unfriended.

No conversation, no closing arguments, no “Dear John/Jessica” text. It is as if they have disappeared, leaving you without closure. The lack of “why” is maddening. Peace-sapping.

In Adele’s hit song, “Hello,” this is the storyline. It is a heartbroken woman having a conversation with a man who won’t answer the phone. The resonance of that song with this culture is startling. It won the distinction in 2016 of being number one on Billboard’s chart for longer than any other song by a female vocalist.

That ghosting is now an actual word says a lot about how relationships are evolving in a hyper-connected world. Because so much of our communication now happens in snippets and emojis rather than real conversations, there is a certain tacit permission to distance ourselves emotionally. It has long been a fact that folks are bolder when they are two steps removed from personal contact. We say things by email we’d never say face to face. We drop hints on Facebook rather than picking up the phone to have an honest conversation.

Once-removed communication is fanning the flames of passive aggression in our culture. It is passe to say that we’ve never been more connected and less authentically relational. I find in my own work as a pastor that I have to almost beg folks to pick up the phone and call. We seem to have lost the art of conversation. Or the heart for it.

I’ve also discovered that ghosting is a thing in the one place where it ought not exist at all. The Church is supposed to be a model for what real community looks like — real, honest, messy, vulnerable community. Walking away without a word is absolutely antithetical to the notion of grace; it shows a disastrous lack of understanding of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

Can you imagine Jesus giving someone the silent treatment? I’ll admit there are times when I feel like God is not present or audible but I can guarantee you that those times are more my fault than God’s. If anyone is ghosting anyone, I’m the one who is likely to ghost him.

The whole point of his promise to be with us always is to prove his love for us. No matter how wrong we’ve been, no matter how far from him we go, he will not leave us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). That’s the mirror opposite of ghosting. It is the promise of eternal presence, no matter how badly I behave.

ghosting1When I check out of relationships without maturely resolving issues, with no concern for offering the ministry of reconciliation, I commit a grave sin — the sin of denying the work of Christ in my own life.

Claiming Christ is a self-limiting act. It is a conscious decision to no longer allow my wounds to take the lead in my decision-making.

Hear that: My wounds don’t get to make my decisions.

When I claim Christ, I submit myself to the leading of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who has called me to the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul and Barnabas are a great example. The story of their conflict in the book of Acts is a testament to how grace works. How they worked through that conflict made all the difference in how God used them to impact the world for Christ. Acts 15:40 says that as they parted company, they commended one another to the service of the Lord.

I am concerned for how we who follow Jesus function in our relationships with one another. We have allowed the culture to inform our responses; yet as Christians, we are given the ministry of reconciliation by Jesus Christ himself, who came expressly for that purpose.

It is right, just and gracious to offer peace in every circumstance. “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

We who claim Christ do not have the option of ghosting, not in our personal relationships nor in our relationship to the Body of Christ.

Why? Because shutting off our emotions will shut down our hearts. No matter what the cost to our pride, schedule or plans, we are called to make peace with anyone who has hurt us or whom we have hurt so that our hearts remain open to the love of God.

Yes, ghosting is a thing, but it is also a sin. It may be culturally acceptable, but it is not the way of the Cross nor the language of the Prince of Peace.

Are there unresolved relationships in your life waiting for the ministry of reconciliation? Who do you need to call so you can offer the gift of peace?

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A Conversation with Millennials about Sex and Culture

I was inspired by a recent blog about why millennials have dropped out of church, and was equally inspired by the conversation generated on a friend’s Facebook page after he re-posted this blog. The blog listed twelve “theses,” in the spirit of the ninety-five Luther nailed to the church door. The ninth thesis was this: “People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image. We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.”

Amen and yes. Even if I don’t know all the language for this, I absolutely agree. We need people speaking truth into the most sensitive areas of life. A comment thread on Facebook produced these comments: “(This) hits home with me,” one young adult writes, “especially about sex, relationships, marriage, and a few ‘taboo’ things I feel like some churches don’t talk enough about that destroy people and families.” His friend replies, “Yes it does. I just wish we could talk about things like that … like it’s important ya know. We all have those pressures of life that get to us. Just wish we could understand that we as young adults (and church families) deal with this on a daily basis.”

That this generation is starving for more transparent conversation is great news. I would so much rather influence a generation around their sex/relationships/marriage choices than sit and toss stones at the culture. Because here’s a fact: We are not who the culture says we are. The culture tells us that “church” is moral but that our bodies are biological, and that the disconnect between the two is final and irreconcilable. But that is simply not true. God’s sexual ethics are not primarily moral; they are theological (meaning that they originate from spiritual realities). And human sexuality is not primarily biological. We are so much more than our biology. We are theologies … which means that quite to the contrary of being a disconnect, there is a marvelously harmonious “connect” between design and desire.

A careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians puts all this on the same playing field. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul does something kind of brilliant. He uses a pretty extreme example — sleeping with a prostitute — to connect us back to the creation story and what happens when we get physical with each other. Quoting Genesis 2 (“The two shall become one flesh.”), he focuses on the Greek word for “joined.” This is the word we use when we talk about the union of men and women in marriage (becoming one flesh) but in the Hebrew, this word isn’t like using a paperclip to keep two pieces of paper together. This word is more like the word for what happens with crazy glue. This is being stuck together in a way that doesn’t disconnect without someone getting torn or damaged in the process.

This is more than physical union; this is about the joining of intangibles because we are not just biologies; we are theologies. Our substance is something deep and spiritual. We are designed for a kind of living that encompasses all of us — mind, body and spirit — which is why so much of our teaching on our created design is dead wrong. It is because so much cultural teaching tends to reduce human sexuality to either morality or biology (then pitting them against each other), when we are clearly more than that.

Neither morality nor biology gets at the heart of our sexual giftedness. Morality plays off fear and shame. Its message is, “It is bad. Don’t do it.” Out of our own fears, we tend to use morality to scare our kids away from treasuring their own bodies. No wonder the enemy of your soul and mine spoke that word “shame” into the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). No wonder the enemy enticed the first humans to fear their own nakedness or to believe that if they were going to get their needs met they’d have to take them into their own hands.

We’ve been fed a lie.

Likewise, to reduce our sexuality to biology is to sap it of all its intangible rewards. Biology focuses on physical and emotional feelings and attractions. The message is, “If it feels good, do it.” This is the message of moral relativity. For teens, the second-tier message is, “Protect yourself,” and that just further separates body from soul. For those who deal with sexual dysfunction, biology forces us into mind-control rather than encouraging us to explore the spiritual and emotional roots of our wounds.

Theology, by contrast, offers us the most holistic view of our bodies and the most chance for living fully into our created design. The point of our sexuality is first of all to be fruitful, but it is a fruitfulness rooted in covenantal relationship that bears the intangible fruit of biblical joy, the freedom of acceptance, and spiritual rest. To see our sexuality theologically — not just morally or biologically — is to free ourselves for true intimacy. It is to couch our most intimate relationships in trust and to reject the lie of shame.

In his great affirmation of our created design, Paul declared, “Glorify God in your body.” I can think of no better word of advice for a young adult navigating this culture.

Glorify God in your body. This is not just so much theological fluff. It is the best possible strategy for cultivating a rich and fulfilling future.

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One story of how a missional church got its start

Most posts on this site are dedicated to practical theology, and this one is no different — though it is certainly more personal. For the last thirteen years I’ve been involved with an experiment in “missional church.” Together with some of the most beautifully faithful people on the planet (I won’t hide my bias), we have been figuring out what church might look like when its people are focused on building community partnerships and missional ventures that result in more intentional spiritual connections. We don’t major on the “weekend experience;” our focus is the spiritual formation of souls.

In this season, we’re planning an expansion of our building to include a community center in an area of our town that is lacking in social services. Our intent is not to become another non-profit but to advocate for the kind of healing that happens within a Christian community.

This is our story of getting started, and our vision for what comes next. If you are connected to Mosaic even through this blog, say a prayer for us. May the witness of God’s people welcome and advance His Kingdom on earth.

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Words in Your Toaster

Some years ago, we had a toaster tragedy in our home. Our toaster sits on our kitchen counter by the refrigerator. As in lots of homes, the top of our refrigerator is like a mini attic, a place to put little things we’ll probably never use again but can’t bring ourselves to toss. For the longest time, one of the things on top of our fridge was a little boxful of magnetic words, the kind you stick on your fridge to string together fun sentences and thinly veiled comments about family members.

I guess it was an accident waiting to happen. Steve went to get something from the cabinet above the fridge one morning and down came the whole box of little magnetic words, right into the toaster below.

The metal toaster.

Do you know how hard it is to get little magnets out of metal toasters? We shook and shook. A few words fell out, but others lodged more deeply inside. I shook out words like drive and guilt and grace and manipulate and gorgeous. I noticed as I kept shaking words out that some of them would wedge up in corners where I could no longer see or get to them.

At the end of all my shaking, I could still see one word in plain view that simply wouldn’t shake loose. The word was “dust.” Until that word comes out, the whole thing is useless. Fire it up and that one little word could start a fire.

I’m talking about the toaster, of course, but maybe I’m talking about life, too.

I wonder how many people in the world have had words dropped into their lives — words like “worthless” or “lazy” or “useless” — that drastically change who they are or how they function? I suspect a lot of us live under the curse of a word wrongly dropped into our spirits. I suspect this because I meet folks like this all the time. They are forty or fifty or sixty and wonder how it is they got so off track with their lives. After enough of a conversation, I hear it. Someone somewhere dropped a word in their toaster, spoke a lie into their spirit. And now, for the presence of an angry word lodged too deeply in their soul, they’ve lost sight of who they are. Or for the lack of a blessing, for the lack of an identity or destiny spoken over their lives, they’ve been derailed.

Sometimes, those words even start fires.

I will say what is stunningly obvious:  words have power. They connect or disconnect us to our created purpose. A blessing unleashes destiny. The alternative derails us.

What word needs to be shaken out of you so you can become who you were created to be? What word can you pass along as a new year begins so someone else in your circle is set free?

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The most profound theological truth you’ll hear this Christmas …

I’m thinking about the two sides of me. There is the person I am and the person I want to be. Those two people are always at war with each other inside my brain. On my good days, I somehow manage to act like the person I want to be, but have a little stress seep into my life or a conflict with someone, and the person I actually am shows up. I turn into something I don’t like. When the me that I actually am shows up and shows out … well, few things are more frustrating or disappointing.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. The fact is, we all live divided lives. We all know that deep pain and disappointment of finding out all over again that we are really two people fighting inside the same body for control. Knowing what we know about ourselves, we ought to be all the more awe-struck by the glorious theology beneath the Christmas story.

What we celebrate at Christmas is the fact that God came to us in human form. Theologically, this goes much deeper than a picture of a baby in a manger. The technical term — hypostatic union — wipes away the warmth of that image but invites us to consider the incredible gift of this cosmic reality.

The hypostatic union. Brothers and sisters, this is good theology. This is the term for the perfect melding of divinity with humanity. He who was fully God became fully human — two distinct natures in one Person. Jesus Christ held together both the power of his divinity and the experience of his humanity … perfectly. He entered in, in order to fully identify with us and became the first of a new humanity, something completely different that made everything new for everyone else.

His birth did not erase the fact that he was the Word who spoke all creation into existence in Genesis chapter 1. His death did not negate the fact that he was the Warrior who battled with death and won in Revelation chapter 19.

Fully God, fully man. If you slight him on the God side, you’re a liberal who tends to focus on his teachings and example without embracing his cosmic power. If you slight him on the human side, you’re in danger of unitarianism — unable to accept the unique nature of the Son or his humanity in the temptations, his frustration with fallenness, his suffering on the cross. Jesus resisted sin, because he felt it. He loved his enemies as enemies because he sensed their opposition. He forgave people because he experienced the grief of their sins against God. He experienced life as a human, but perfectly.

And because he has made perfect peace with these two parts of himself, he is able — Spirit-Man — to offer us both pattern and permission to find peace with our two halves. Jesus has accomplished in his body through the perfect union of divinity and humanity what we all long for most: peace.

In other words, Jesus is the answer to that fight that goes on inside us. The one answer with power to speak peace into the divided mess that is us is the perfect union of Father with Son — of deity with humanity. Because he has broken through that barrier for us and now lives in perfect unity within himself, Jesus — fully God, fully man — has carved out our pathway to peace.

So what do we do with this bit of theology? We use it. We trust it and then we live it. We start acting as if Christ’s work is sufficient to heal our divided selves. Even if we don’t feel it we can “act as if.” We can begin to practice the peace that Jesus has shown us in himself. We can act as if our biggest internal battles are won. Act as if our recovery is complete, even if we’re still on the journey. Act as if our relationships are healed, even if they are still in process. Act as if our physical health is improving, as if our depression is healing, as if our finances are stabilizing. Act as if we care, as if we need community, as if we have a heart for others … even if we are still under construction.

This is the gift of good theology. It teaches us who we are, and then it shows us how to act.

And that makes Jesus — Word Become Flesh — all the more worthy of our worship.

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Making Peace (and progress) With the Mess that is Us

Funny, how we humans think.

We assume we’re the only people in the world who have the kind of psychotic, illogical thoughts we have. We say, “If people could hear what is in my head, they’d run screaming from my presence.”

It is a kind of narcissism, really; and we all have it to some degree or another. Either we think of ourselves as better than the people around us, or we think of ourselves as worse than the worst. The common thread with either option is that we think of ourselvesAnd we assume everyone else is thinking of us, too. This is what we do. On this side of the fall line, the human tendency is to think of ourselves too much, in distorted ways. We think we’re unique in our sin, unique in our brokenness — unique in all the wrong ways.

This is biblical in the sense that we live on this side of Genesis 3. But our self-centered, self-promoting, self-hating thoughts … these are most certainly not biblical. The Bible tells me there is nothing I am going through that isn’t common to everyone. Which means those bizarre, insane thoughts you have are probably a lot like the bizarre, insane thoughts I have. Like you, I scream and cry in private. I melt down and wish God would just strike me dead. Or I rail against everyone else and wish God would strike them dead. Like you, I deal with envious thoughts and doubt-filled thoughts and fearful thoughts (those are my specialty). And I get so angry with God for not fixing everything like I want it. I feel sorry for myself way too much, wondering why I have it worse than all the other pastors in the world.

I’m not above crazy and I know myself well enough to know it will happen again, even if I pray earnestly for God to move me beyond those moments.

If what I’ve described here sounds familiar to you, too, then welcome to the human race.

Here’s the encouragement, for what it is worth: What separates us from the real crazies is our ability to see all those self-centered, unstable thoughts for what they are. They are moments of weakness but they are most likely very normal. They are our truest, most fallen self bleeding through, but they are not evil. They are a fact of the human condition.

When we see our weakness, our sheer humanity, as some degree of separation from God’s best, we understand more intimately why we need a Redeemer. We need someone who can speak for us in the presence of Perfect Love — someone who can say on our behalf, “This one is with me.” We need someone who counters all our distortions of self with knowledge of the created good by which he defines us. We need an Advocate with the Father (see Zechariah 3 for a profound picture of how this works in the Kingdom of God).

You see, while we think of ourselves as unique in all the wrong ways, Christ our Redeemer (the one who spoke us into being), thinks of us as unique in all the right ways. He sees us as we are, and he also sees what he made. More accurately, he sees the image of God. More accurately still, the Father sees us through the filter of Christ. In other words, it is not our behavior or our thoughts or our basest selves that matter. What matters is our proximity to the Redeemer who speaks for us.

In fact, that’s all that matters.

And what Jesus does for us, we are now challenged to do for others. We learn from Christ to be other-focused and to see the best in others … to see what they may not see in themselves. How can we practice seeing people in our path as Christ sees us?

1. Assume the best.
Do you tend to be trusting or suspicious of people? We tend to see in others what we see in ourselves. Do you see the best or worst?

2. Address the gaps.
They say that in the absence of information, we assume the worst. Rather than filling gaps with suspicion, we would all do well to learn to ask for help in understanding.  Where there is a gap, assume the best and lean in, as Christ has for us.

3. Learn to bend.
Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Love does not default to defensiveness, does not self-protect at the expense of others. Love bends … and doesn’t break.

4. Build on their gifts.
Your mother said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. At the risk of disagreeing with your mom, I disagree. If you can’t say something nice about someone, why is that? What has you so jaded about the human race that you can’t find one nice thing to hang your hat on, can’t find one redeeming quality in another child of God? Instead, why not find at least one strength and build on it?

5. In your anger, do not sin.
This comes straight from Paul. I love how he words it. He tells me I am going to be angry sometimes. I appreciate that permission. But my anger never gives me permission to “break a bruised reed.” If I find myself dealing with too much impatience, too short a fuse, I may need to examine what has me living too close to the edge.

Chances are, it isn’t them; its me. 

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Two Words for Healthy Community: Trust and Freedom

Reputable organizational developers agree on this: trust breeds organizational health; without it, an organization has nothing on which to build. Trust is the foundation on which sustainable strategies are built and the link to meaningful connection.

Trust begins with transparency. A colleague at 12Stone Church in Atlanta once said, “Trust requires shortcomings without secrets. You can’t be on the team and hide things.” This is why spiritual formation in community is so important. We learn to normalize conversations about the state of our souls. Put these conversations in the “wise as serpents” category. By spending time on relational connection and by challenging one another to accountability, we not only to grow spiritually but keep dysfunction from stunting Kingdom-minded initiatives and burning out good people.

Building dynamic, strategic teams and communities begins with trust and transparency. Time spent making sure this happens is never wasted time.

Sometime back, I was with someone who told me he was just “not feeling it” lately where his connection to his faith community is  concerned. He has felt disengaged spiritually from his faith community. I listened for a while, then asked a couple of strategic discipleship questions. I asked about his sin, and also about his spiritual disciplines. Turns out, he is dealing with chronic unresolved sin, and is not disciplined in his personal prayer and scripture time. He wanted to externalize his sense of disconnection, making it a church issue. It isn’t. His issue is on him. And because he is a ministry leader, his choices affect the health of his community. His sin isn’t really just his; it affects everything he is connected to.

Sin is always systemic. And sin always means to erode our trust in God and each other. And because trust requires healthy boundaries and mutual accountability, it is necessarily connected to freedom. This is counterintuitive but true: If trust requires accountability, then accountability breeds freedom.

In his book, Culture of Honor, Danny Silk writes, “At the heart of [a] culture [of honor] is a value for freedom. We don’t allow people to use this freedom to create chaos. We have boundaries, but we use these boundaries to make room for a level of personal expression that brings what is really inside of people to the surface. When people are given choices, it reveals the level of freedom they are prepared to handle.”

It is just so easy to forget we have a choice. This is an important principle to internalize. When both leaders and community members acknowledge that we are not victims, nor manipulators, we begin to make better decisions and hold more mature conversations.

Healthy, God-honoring cultures provide the kind of accountability that refuses room for a victim mentality.

We are not victims — in our work, in our relationships, in our choices. Isn’t that a glorious truth? We have the freedom and power to refuse shame, be honest, and make changes. As we learn the art of making holy choices, we become trustworthy people. As we build trust, we build community.

Ministry leaders, how are you building a culture of trust, honor, accountability and mature choice among your teams? It begins with you. How are you progressing spiritually? Which of your issues — that you are complaining about and blaming others for — are actually on you? As a leader in the church, you are expected to acknowledge that and make progress by dealing with sin and leaning into discipline.

If your frustrations are primarily rooted in your ministry, how are you actively addressing that? Is your face set enthusiastically and faithfully toward the work for which you’re paid? Where are you passively disappointed or frustrated? Remember: our work is not to “get things done.” Our work is to put people in position to get their lives transformed. Is your posture toward your people both trusting and trustworthy?

Sowing seeds of trust and freedom into our communities will produce a great harvest of Kingdom-minded churches and mature followers of Jesus. And because this is the desperate need of the world today, it worth our earnest pursuit.

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